Gender Differences in Lifetime Publishing Productivity Are Largely the Result of Career Length

A new study finds that in many scientific disciplines men and women publish a comparable number of papers per year and have an equivalent career-wise impact for the same total number of publications. This suggests the productivity and impact of gender differences are explained by different publishing career lengths and dropout rates.

Researchers examined the publication history of over 1.5 million gender-identified authors whose publishing career ended between 1955 and 2010. The analysis covered authors from 83 countries and 13 academic disciplines. The analysis found that the annual productivity differences between men and women are negligible: female authors publish, on average, 1.33 papers per year, while male authors publish, on average, 1.32 papers per year.

They found that differences in publishing career lengths and the fact that women were more likely than men to drop out from their academic career explain a large portion of the reported career-wise differences in productivity and impact. The data showed that on average male authors reach an academic age of 11.0 years before ceasing to publish, while the average terminal academic age of female authors is only 9.3 years.

The authors note that “it is often argued that in order to reduce the gender gap, the scientific community must make efforts to nurture junior female researchers. We find, however, that the academic system is losing women at a higher rate at every stage of their careers.” They conclude that “the cumulative impact of this career-wide effect dramatically increases the gender disparity for senior mentors in academia, perpetuating the cycle of lower retention and advancement of female faculty.”

The full study, “Historical Comparison of Gender Inequality in Scientific Careers Across Countries and Disciplines” was published on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It may be accessed here.

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